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Proposal Review and Defense

Proposal Review and Defense

A dissertation proposal must adequately describe an approved research project.  Faculty generally agree that it takes a proposal of 30 pages or more to include sufficient detail for committee members to ascertain the level of the student’s understanding and the merit of the proposed research.  Each student should discuss proposal length and content with his or her major advisor.  While IRB approval cannot be sought until after the defense, most chairs want the proposal appendix to include any essential information that the IRB will request.  Once your proposal has the tentative approval of your chairperson, copies should be sent to all committee members for review and a proposal defense date set.  To allow adequate review time, the proposal defense meeting date should be set no sooner than two weeks from the date the proposal is received by all committee members.  In general, follow formatting guidelines in the School of Graduate Studies Publication Guide, adjusting to reflect the differences between a dissertation proposal and the final drafts of a dissertation.

Forms to bring to the proposal defense:

After Proposal Approval

If your committee approves your proposal, committee members will sign the proposal cover sheet.  Keep this signed candidacy form as you still need to get an IRB approval number before it is complete.  You must apply to the IRB ( for approval to conduct your research.  The final copy of your proposal (including any requested revisions) with a signed cover sheet must be submitted with other required forms and materials (letters of consent, interview protocols, copies of instruments) to the IRB at USU. The IRB process can take 4 to 6 weeks to complete, so be sure to figure this into your dissertation timeline.  Once you receive an authorization number from the IRB, submit your Application for Candidacy for Doctoral Degree form to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies.  (Be sure to make a copy of these documents for you and your file in the TEAL office.)  This form indicates that any changes in your coursework have been approved, that you have passed your comprehensive exams, that your dissertation proposal has been approved, and that you may now proceed with a dissertation study.

Beginning Your Dissertation Research

Your proposal is an agreement between you and your doctoral supervisory committee. Procedures outlined in your proposal constitute the minimum acceptable for your dissertation; you may, of course, add areas of inquiry as your research develops. Please note that all changes should be discussed with your chairperson and that all major changes must be approved by your committee members.  Before writing your dissertation, review again the format guidelines in the most recent edition of the Publication Guide for Graduate Students (located in the section named Dissertation Format and Style Guide) at Utah State University, and the Copyright Policy.  In writing your paper, follow accepted reporting guidelines (almost always APA style).   

Work closely with your committee chairperson as you prepare various drafts of your dissertation. Please note that before you defend your dissertation, it must meet APA style requirements unless you have pre-approval to use a different format guide.  When your chairperson agrees that the dissertation is in final form and ready for defense, distribute your dissertation to all committee members.  Your dissertation, in final form, must be given to all committee members no less than four weeks before the final oral defense.  After allowing time for committee members to read the dissertation, obtain your committee's signatures on the Appointment for Examination form (available on the Graduate School website under Forms.)  It is very important that you turn in this form to the School of Graduate Studies no less than 15 working days before the defense.

In planning your defense date, be aware that the School of Graduate Studies publishes doctoral deadlines each year for winter and spring commencement exercises.  These dates are posted under Completion and Commencement Ceadlines on their website.

Degree Residency Requirements

At the time you submit your Appointment for Examination form you should also submit your Degree Residency Requirements form.  This form requires you to describe and list the activities you have completed that meet USU's School of Graduate Studies Residency Requirements for PhD and EdD students.

Dissertation Defense

You must have been in continuous enrollment (graduate advisement credits or dissertation credits during all fall and spring academic terms) and enrolled for at least 3 credits the semester that you schedule your dissertation defense.  Your dissertation, in final form, must be given to all committee members no less than four weeks before the final oral defense.  Visitors are invited to the dissertation defense via posted announcements. You need to work with your chair to make sure the announcement is posted.  You should be prepared to defend the dissertation as written and submitted to your committee. Your committee may suggest editorial changes; however, if the oral examination indicates weaknesses that require major revisions, your defense must be rescheduled.  A range of options is available to committees: clear pass, pass with editorial changes, rewrite for chair or committee approval, re-examination, or failure. For your defense to be considered satisfactory, all five committee members must concur. A report of the results of the exam is filed with other materials at the conclusion of the defense.

Attendance of Visitors at Doctoral Defense

After the Defense

Work with your committee chairperson and/or designated committee members to make any minor changes or corrections in your approved dissertation.  All students are required to work with Mary Ellen Heiner, thesis editor and format advisor for the College of Education and Human Services, during the final stages of dissertation writing. This person has been assigned to check the format of dissertations prior to their submission to the Graduate School. There is a fee for this format check and it is based on how much time your formatting takes.  The cleaner your format, the less it costs.  The Thesis/Dissertation Format and Style form must accompany your final dissertation.

Contact information for Mary Ellen Heiner:
Phone:  (435) 797-0088 
Fax:  (435) 797-2019
Office Location:  Human Services Research Center (HSRC) 101N
Address:  6580 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-6580

After the department format advisor is finished, send your dissertation and signed Thesis/Dissertation Format and Style form to the School of Graduate Studies for a final review and the Graduate Dean’s Signature. Once you have the final signatures of your committee and approval by the Thesis Coordinator and the Graduate Dean, you will need to digitally send your dissertation to the Merrill-Cazier Library.  Make sure to follow the various steps for printing, binding, and electronic publishing outlined by the School of Graduate Studies. If you want a printed, bound copy of your dissertation, you can order that through the Merrill-Cazier Library for an additional fee.